‘The Class Struggle’ by Mary E. Marcy from the International Socialist Review. Vol. 16 No. 4. October, 1916.

‘The Class Struggle’ by Mary E. Marcy from the International Socialist Review. Vol. 16 No. 4. October, 1916.

SOMEBODY said, “Let’s stop talking about the class struggle.” And somebody else said, “Let’s.” And then the Innocent Bystander inquired, “What is the class struggle?” That is the question: What is the class struggle!

It is the struggle between workers and the bosses for the things produced by the workers. It would be as easy to stop talking about the class struggle as it would be to stop talking about cold weather and winter clothing, about food and rent and marriage and death and disease- for the class struggle is intermingled with all these things.

The working class produced all the commodities existing in the world to-day; all the food, houses, street cars, railroads, all of the clothing. All the coal has been dug by workers, the lumber has been cut and hauled by the workers, the food has been planted and raised and cooked by the workers.

But the class struggle arises over the fact that the employers of labor appropriate all these things produced by the workers. These employers pay the workers who produce all these commodities miserable wages, while they, who produce nothing, keep our commodities.

For example: A coal miner may dig $18.00 worth of coal in a day. The coal mine owner pays him $3.00 in wages and keeps the $18.00 worth of coal-which leaves $15.00 surplus value appropriated by the mine owner. The class struggle is the fight over the $15.00 of surplus value, produced by the worker and taken by the boss.

The miner wants more or all of the value of his product, while the boss wants to pay him less. The boss thinks $3.00 a day is an enormous wage for the men who produce $18.00 worth of wealth every day.

The whole life of the working class is determined by what portion of the value of his product he receives. If he can force the coal operator to give him $6.00 out of the $18.00 worth of coal he has dug, it is obvious that the miner can change his whole mode of life from what it was when he received only $3 a day in wages.

He can live in a better house, buy better food, afford to get married and wear better clothes. When his children are sick he can engage a good doctor and buy medicines. His whole life depends upon just how much he gets out of the coal he digs.

The class struggle is the most important thing in the life of the working class today. We could not stop talking about it if we wanted to. Every time we ask for more wages and the boss feels that he has to give them to us, we have gained a little bit more of the value we have produced, and we have left a lower dividend for the boss. We have fought a small part of the class struggle.

The bosses want low wages and long hours because they know that low wages and long hours mean more surplus value (or more profits) for them. Every workingman and woman wants higher wages and shorter hours, although they know this will leave smaller dividends for their employers.

The class struggle is the struggle of the whole working class with the owning class for more of, and finally all of, the value of the things it produces. It is a struggle because the capitalist class opposes all these benefits for the workers, higher wages and shorter hours, with all its power. The capitalist class knows that when the workers organize and unite to keep the entire value of the things they make, there will be no more profits for the exploiters of labor.

The sort of things that are taught in the colleges, schools and universities are determined by the class struggle; the rich and owning class insists that pupils and students shall be taught to be honest, contented, hard-working, humble, wage-workers so that even education is a part of the class struggle. But education represents the interests of the owning class just so far as the owning class can control the educational institutions of a country.

Prof. Scott Nearing was thrown off the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania because that university is controlled by some of the biggest profit-takers in America, and because he told the truth in his lectures and books about the conditions in the mines, mills and factories owned by these millionaires.

Every social institution, even when it is supposed to be “free,” as it is in this country, represents the interests of one of the two opposing sides in the class struggle. Take the church, the state, or the government; the laws, judges, police, the army and navy; the schools and the press- nearly all these represent the class that takes the things which the workers make.

Nearly all socialist and labor periodicals, particularly the industrial union periodicals, try to represent only the working class in its struggle for more of its products and finally to abolish the wage system and to give to the workers the entire value produced by the workers.

The class struggle is always fermenting. Every workingman wants to quit work early. Every boss tries to make him work overtime. Every worker demands an increase in wages whenever he thinks he can get it. Individual workers used to be able to treat with their employers and force them to give them an increase in wages, but this is rarely possible now. Industry has been so modernized and systematized that the machines do a great part of the manufacturing formerly done by the skilled laborer and one man is of small importance in a large factory or mill.

About the only way the workers can get anything from the bosses to-day is by organizing with other workers. Up to a few years ago much of the struggling between the owning class and the working class was entirely on the question of more wages or less wages, longer or shorter hours. But now the workers in every “civilized” country in the world are beginning to agitate and educate and organize the workers of the whole world to carry on a gigantic struggle against the capitalist or owning class- not for shorter hours and higher wages- not for more of the things produced by the workers, to be owned by the workers, but in order to take the great manufacturing plants and producing plants and factories the mines, mills and lands for the workers: so that the workers of the world, and only the workers, may receive the full value of the things they produce.

This is the Class Struggle on which is based every labor and socialist movement. worthy of the name today.

Nobody likes the Class Struggle. Every intelligent man and woman in the world today regrets that there is raging everywhere such a mighty class war.

Sometimes in some countries those who rob the workers can fool and force and deceive them into fighting battles for the owning class, by pretending that a war will prove of benefit to the working class of, that country. But when these wars are over the workers always find that the bosses have deceived them. They find that they are still forced to make all the useful and beautiful things used by mankind, while the owning class continues to take these things, for which it pays the workers only the lowest possible wage.

And then, very gradually, the workers begin to wake up and to join hands again with their robbed and exploited comrades across the national boundary lines. Then they begin to learn the meaning of “Workers of the World, Unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.”

The Class Struggle will continue as long as one class of idle men appropriates the things made and produced by the workers. The workers cannot stop talking about nor waging the Class Struggle, no matter how much they want to. They will never be content until the things produced by the working class belong to that class.

Revolutionists will abolish the Class Struggle by abolishing classes. When the factories and mines, the lands and railroads, the mills and the great shops are owned and controlled by those who work, every man and woman will have opportunity to labor, to produce all the comforts and pleasures of life without giving over the greater part of their products to a non-laboring class.

And so we cannot forget the Class Struggle. It is thrust and shoved at those of us who work for wages every day in the year. We have to fight the Class Struggle whether we want to or not. If we did not struggle we would be receiving lower wages and working longer hours until we worked ourselves onto the human junk pile. We have to resist the encroachments of the employing class all the time.

Every wage worker knows how his boss tries to force him or her to produce more, to work longer, etc., etc. We are constantly rebelling or we are constantly becoming more enslaved. The Class Struggle is the hope of the working class. If the workers cease to fight, cease to contest every step of the way, if we finally cease to advance and drive the owning class before us, nothing can save us, who produce all the useful and beautiful things in life.

And so, let us be glad of the Class Struggle. Let us rejoice that we are in the fight. Let us remember that in all the years of labor’s progress it has never gained anything except by fighting for it. The master class never yielded an iota except where it was forced to yield. It never “gave” us anything. All we have gained has been wrung from the exploiting class; we have taken by our united strength.

Nothing is wholly apart from the Class Struggle. Either it is advantageous to the robber side, or it is advantageous to the producing side; either it advances the interests of the takers, or it advances the interests of the makers.

Our strength lies in endorsing and supporting and building up and using every institution, every school, or paper, or magazine or union or party which supports and advocates the interests of the whole working class and of the working class alone.

The Class Struggle should be the yard stick with which we identify our enemies and our friends. Those that measure up advocating those things that are of benefit to the working class are “good” and should have our co-operation. Those that work to the benefit of the robbing class are backing the foe on the other side of the Class Struggle, and should gain our hearty opposition. Class loyalty, education and organization along the lines of the great Class Struggle alone will free the working class from wage slavery.

The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v17n04-oct-1916-ISR-riaz-ocr.pdf

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